Saturday, September 11, 2004

Thailand: Week in Review

Thaksin tries to stifle the media while others try to take on Thaksin, a sad conclusion to jealousy and rage and the Scorpions come to town.

Ever the prescient and shrewd individual when it comes to envisioning how his actions will be perceived, the libel case against a female journalist brought by Thai PM Thaksin appeared set to kick off this past week. The 400 million baht (approx. 10 million US) lawsuit against the Thai Post and Supinya Klangnarong alleges that she defamed Thaksin and his Shin Corporation when she wrote an article claiming that government policies have favoured the massive conglomerate owned by Thaksin. Upon meeting this past week the Criminal Court instead decided the libel case will not be heard until next year.

The question remains as to whether there were any strings pulled to put the case off until after the general election early next year, in hopes of avoiding embarrassing details surfacing that could harm Thaksin's attempt to be re-elected…

However, another fight started picking up steam early in the week, again involving Thaksin and this time maybe a more evenly matched opponent. "Battling billionaires" got underway as Ekkayuth Anchanbutr accused some within the government of stock manipulation resulting in countless billions in profits.

Ekkayuth fled Thailand in the early '80's after being accused of operating a pyramid scheme that bilked billions from investors. He made a fortune in the UK with a string of Asian food stores and has returned recently after the statute of limitations expired regarding the accusations against him. So far Thaksin's only response has been to try and discredit Ekkayuth with references to his earlier indiscretions. Who knows if Ekkayuth has any motivation beyond uncovering corruption but the war of words should provide some good entertainment in the weeks to come.

The last 7 days also saw another killing in the south, where Muslim extremists have been detonating bombs and battling the army and police at a heightened level of intensity since the beginning of this year. In this instance, a Muslim was killed by a soldier who mistakenly thought the young man was an insurgent. "Mistakenly shot and killed" conjures up images of mass confusion with people fleeing and perhaps someone getting killed in the crossfire. But it seems as though the man was asked to lay face down on the ground and then had a bullet pumped into his back.

On Friday the big story was in Kanchanaburi. Take a 90 minute drive to the west of Bangkok and you arrive in the city of Kanchanaburi, best known to foreigners as the location of the Death Bridge featured in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai." Early on Thursday morning a young British couple were murdered there after becoming involved in an argument with a Thai man.

It seems as though the initial problem arose when the young Brit became enraged at the belief that others were staring at his girlfriend. It's unfortunate that this asinine bit of jealousy may have sparked the tragedy though of course the insane over-reaction should result in proper punishment when the murderer is caught.

I'm trying to imagine how the Thai became offended enough to kill both of the young tourists. Maybe the incredible sense of effrontery and being affronted came from the fact that there seems to be a markedly different and acceptable practice of recognizing a woman's beauty here as opposed to many western countries. Looking at a beautiful woman for a bit too long (and there are many, MANY opportunities) is possibly not so disrespectful here or likely to result in harummphing from the woman or glares from a jealous man (though of course it does happen sometimes).

This contrasts from other countries, where outsiders especially have to be careful how long they look at the local women. In general, the attitude here seems to be a collective pride that Thai women are so worthy of having their beauty recognized. Many an arrogant foreign fool takes this too far with over-the-top ogling after his initial introduction to the beer bars and the hostesses working there but still Thais rarely react in a confrontational way over this.

So perhaps as the basis for the initial animosity from the Brit, this may have especially galled the Thai man who eventually lost it.

Compounding the sense of cruelty surrounding the murder and the anger towards the gunman, is the fact that it appears as though he is a Thai policeman. Possibly he acquired a taste for killing as last year's butchering spree of alleged drug dealers by police raged on during the government declared war on drugs.

As is usual when crimes are initially reported, the emerging details of this double murder are convoluted but the 2 tourists definitely met a brutal end. The young lass had her final moments of horror compounded by apparently being assaulted by her jealous boyfriend before being hit by the car driven by the Thai, dragged for a distance and then being shot as the murderer fled on foot.

On Friday night, Thailand's strange love affair with the German band the Scorpions was consummated once again, as the metal band that enjoyed most of its popularity in the '80's played a concert at Bangkok’s Impact Arena. Something about the melodic metal sound and the distinctive voice of lead singer Klaus Meine with his barely discernible clipped accent appeals to Thais…at least more than any of the other dinosaurs from that era. Come here for a vacation and you're bound to hear the greatest hits from the Scorpions in the bars of Bangkok, in the beach front bars on the islands, on the radio, from cover bands playing anywhere...

Not that there's anything wrong with their music, in fact there's a number of their songs that I enjoy. It's just, why that particular band to the relative exclusion of other tired metal acts from that time period? Who knows...just another quirky aspect to this strange place I call home.

Note: I had wanted to end this piece with a short excerpt from a Scorpion's tune in hopes of capturing some relevance to Bangkok and/or the events from the past week. Alas, a quick perusal of their songs reveals that, like the lyrics from most rock bands, when not accompanied by the music, more interesting words can be found on shithouse walls.

Cross-posted at: Flogging the Simian